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US Catholics split on whether to vote Clinton or Trump, research finds

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump (AP)

Hispanic Catholics are solidly behind presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, while white Catholics are more closely split between Clinton and her presumed Republican challenger, Donald Trump.

The news comes from a poll released on July 13 by the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life.

According to the poll, 77 per cent of Hispanic Catholics are backing Clinton while 16 per cent support Trump, with five per cent either not sure or not saying.

White Catholics, meanwhile, shade toward Trump by a 50 per cent – 46 per cent margin, according to Pew, with four per cent undecided.

Among all Catholics, the edge goes to Clinton, 56-39, with 5 per cent undecided or not knowing who to back.

In the overall poll, according to Pew, Clinton leads Trump 51 per cent – 42 per cent.

Pew estimates that Catholics make up 20 per cent of the electorate this year, 13 per cent being white, five per cent being Hispanic, and two per cent being “other.”

By contrast, 21 per cent of all voters are religiously unaffiliated, according to Pew. They are behind Clinton by a nearly three-to-one margin, 67 per cent – 23 per cent, with 10 per cent undecided.

Twenty per cent of all voters are evangelical Protestants, 14 per cent are mainline Protestants, 9 percent are black Protestants and 6 per cent are “other” Protestants. The remaining body of voters comes to 11 per cent.

In the poll, conducted in June, 75 per cent of white evangelicals said they were supporting Trump, including 36 per cent who said they were “strongly” supporting him — better numbers than 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney received in a similar poll in June 2012.

By comparison, 66 per cent of the religiously unaffiliated voters said they were backing Clinton, slightly worse than the 68 per cent who were behind President Barack Obama four years ago, and 26 per cent strongly supporting her — well below the 37 per cent who said in 2012 they strongly backed Obama.

Black Protestants also heavily back Clinton by an 89 per cent – eight per cent margin, with four per cent undecided. Mainline Protestants, though, support Trump, 50 per cent – 39 per cent, with 11 per cent undecided.

One phenomenon examined in the Pew poll was whether a respondent’s choice more closely represented a vote for the candidate or a vote against the opposing candidate. Among the religiously unaffiliated, for example, more of them who back Clinton said it was a vote against Trump, and more of them who back Trump called it a vote against Clinton.

Only Clinton-backing Protestants say their vote is more for Clinton than one against Trump, 19 per cent – 18 per cent, and only because black Protestants do so by a 52 per cent – 34 per cent margin — and that margin pales next to the 72 per cent pro-Obama support given in 2012.

Among evangelicals, 42 percent said the choice between Trump and Clinton was hard because they thought neither one would make a good president. However, evangelicals who preferred Trump to Clinton how he would handle a wide variety of specific issues, from gun policy to the economy, terrorism, immigration and abortion.

Catholic satisfaction, or lack of it, with the candidates mirrors evangelical attitudes. Four years ago, 58 per cent said they were very or fairly satisfied with the candidates as opposed to 39 per cent who said they were “not too” or “not at all” satisfied. This year, 57 per cent are not satisfied with the nominees, while only 40 per cent are.

Seventy percent of Catholics say it is important that the president be religious. Those numbers are down from 73 per cent in 2012 and 76 per cent in 2008, a trend seen in other religious groups. Overall, just 62 per cent of US adults say it is important to them that the president have strong religious beliefs, down from 67 per cent in 2012 and 72 per cent in 2008.

Also trending downward is the percentage of those who believe houses of worship can contribute to solving social problems. Nationally, the numbers have declined 17 per cent since 2008, from 75 per cent to 58 per cent. Among Catholics, it has shrunk from 79 per cent to 63 per cent — although Hispanic Catholics registered a six-point jump over the 2012 numbers, from 63 to 69 per cent.

Among Catholics who say they go to Mass less than once a week, 56 per cent back Clinton, compared to the 51 per cent four years ago who backed Obama.

The survey interview 2,245 Americans by landlines and cellphones in June. The margin of error for the full survey is plus or minus 2.4 percentage points; for Catholics, the margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.